It’s time to Break It Down!
The very high profile and discordant GOP stalemate appears to be coming to a merciful end; the dispute nearly over. Maybe!
A few weeks ago, in the midst of Pope Francis’ American DC-NY-PA Tour, House Speaker John Boehner underwent an epiphany and announced he would resign from his Speakership, and retire from Congress. At that moment, it appeared Kevin McCarthy, House Majority Leader, was most likely to pursue the Speaker’s position.
Indeed, he had Speaker Boehner’s blessing and endorsement. It should be noted, that was always going to be problematic for McCarthy. Boehner had become a less than popular leader, especially among the ultra conservative wing of the GOP, which includes the Tea Party element.
As if the onus of being close to the Speaker were not enough, in a Truth Serum-like induced moment of candor, Mr. McCarthy admitted in a Fox News interview that he was part of a Benghazi probe that had resulted in deflating Hillary Clinton’s poll numbers. Oops!
Quicker than a magician could say abracadabra, Representative McCarthy’s SNAFU ascended to a top-tier Twitter trending item, and part of a continuous loop in the 24-hour news cycle. Can you say liability? In a matter of days Mr. McCarthy evolved from a candidate who hoped to survive a spirited and contested battle for the Speakership to someone who lost all hope. He entered a meeting at which a vote on the matter was expected, and left, having taken himself out of the running.
On some level it was not a surprising move; yet it was totally unexpected. He had given no indication he would recuse himself from running. In some ways, it was a most artful sleight. It allowed him to proactively disengage from what was sure to be a figurative intra-Party OK Corral kind of gymnastic. Score one for the Kev.
As much as his “Smooth Operator” move made matters less complicated for him in the long run, and less contentious for the GOP in the short term, the tactic further roiled the waters for the Party, which at its core needed to get on with the business of electing a New Speaker, and complicated Mr. Boehner’s level of duress. After all, he hopes to gavel to a close his final meeting by October 31st.
Almost immediately after McCarthy’s exit, a Draft Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan movement emerged in full bore. There had been some level of interest in his becoming a candidate for the post, all along. His advocates, whom, represent various elements of the Party largely agree that he is one of the few, if not the only person whom, at this time, could persuade the requisite number of House colleagues to coalesce around and elect a candidate.
From the outset, Paul Ryan navigated the ensuing process in an arm’s length fashion. By most accounts, the job (Speaker of the House) is one he did not want, and in fact opted not to seek. There are a number of reasons for this, including, the nature of the job called for, from his perspective:
– Too much travel
– Too much fundraising
– Too much jousting and in fighting
Ryan is currently Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. He assumed the Chairmanship in January of this year. Prior to that, he spent four years as Chairman of the House Budget Committee. The Committee on Ways and Means has a wide range of oversight and responsibilities. The Committee on Budget is also the kind of high-level policy-heavy assignment that Ryan considers right in his wheel well. He is a policy wonk that wants to reform the tax code, and would ideally like to take a crack at running for President. He was on the ticket as Mitt Romney’s choice for Vice President in 2012.
The Committee on Ways and Means is the chief tax-writing committee of the United States House of Representatives. Members of the Ways and Means Committee are not allowed to serve on any other House Committees unless they apply for a waiver from their party’s congressional leadership. The Committee has jurisdiction over all taxation, tariffs, and other revenue-raising measures, as well as a number of other programs including:
- Social Security
- Unemployment benefits
- Enforcement of child support laws
- Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, a federal welfare program
- Foster care and adoption programs
The U.S. Constitution requires that all bills regarding taxation must originate in the House of Representatives. Since House procedure is that all bills regarding taxation must go through this committee, the committee is very influential, as is its Senate counterpart, the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance.
The U.S. House Committee on the Budget, commonly known as the House Budget Committee, is a standing committee of the United States House of Representatives. Its responsibilities include legislative oversight of the federal budget process, reviewing all bills and resolutions on the budget, and monitoring agencies and programs funded outside of the budgetary process.
Last night, Mr. Ryan took the first step toward what Republicans, at least the group that considers itself of the mainstream variety hopes will be the beginning of the end of the Speaker selection impasse. At first blush, it seems promising. But the contemporary Republican Party is almost not one Party in the traditional sense.
Ryan, understanding just what he is working with laid out a series of caveats that the Party must accept, in order for him to “reluctantly” take the job. The gist of those points his colleagues must agree to include the following:
- He must receive the support of all three groups inside the House Republican conference: the House Freedom Caucus, the Republican Study Committee and the moderate Tuesday Group.
- He wants changes to House rules made as a team — a major demand of the House Freedom Caucus; he wants to make it harder to overthrow a sitting speaker.
- He wants a better work-life balance than out-going House Speaker John Boehner had.
- He also emphasized the importance of unified support for the next speaker. Ryan told his colleagues he is willing to take “arrows in the chest but not in the back,” a GOP source inside the meeting told CNN.
Ryan closed his remarks by adding, should the conference agree to his stipulations, “I am happy and willing to get to work.” He went on to say, “I hope it doesn’t sound conditional, but it is.” According to members inside the room. He paused after saying the word “conditional,” for effect.
In explaining his insistence on the aforementioned terms of engagement, Ryan said, “This is not a job I ever sought; this is not a job I ever wanted. I came to the conclusion that this was a dire moment.”
Observers close to the process also weighed in. Peter King (R-NY) by most accounts a moderate, said, “If Paul Ryan can’t unite us, no one can. Who else is out there? That’d be a sign of utter dysfunction, total madness.”
Ryan’s allies say his conditions for becoming speaker are likely to include an understanding that he would have a free hand to lead without a constant fear of mutinous reprisals. One, Peter Wehner, a former adviser to President George W. Bush, said Ryan wants House conservatives to make clear that they would not seek to “cripple him” from the start.
Wehner added, “He doesn’t have a moral obligation to get Republicans out of the rubble they’ve created for themselves. Asking for their goodwill is completely reasonable.”
Perhaps the most challenging element for Ryan to get his arms around, and to whip or coerce, or coddle into line is the group known as the Freedom Caucus. This is a group of hardline Republicans who were not enamored with Speaker Boehner, and who tried to unseat him on a number of occasions.
In the initial stages of the group’s existence, which came to power in 2011, after the Tea Party swept a number of 2010 midterm election, the focus was primarily on reducing government spending. Latter day emphases have included specific targets such as Planned Parenthood, and its funding. But as time wears on, it is increasingly clear that what the Freedom Caucus wants more than specific legislation is power.
The clock is ticking, and the brinksmanship, while interesting in a sociological kind of way, is a totally counterproductive endeavor. We will soon see if the Representative from Wisconsin’s First Congressional District has constructed an acceptable path forward, via “Ryan’s Rules: Demands, Conditions, Stipulations…Pick the Semantic of Your Choice!”
I’m done; holla back!
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